My hope for every pregnant person is that their labor ends with a healthy and happy mother-baby dyad! Unfortunately, not all pregnancies end in this blissful way. Some mothers spend the first weeks and months of their lives visiting the NICU, or the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. With a medically fragile baby, NICU nurses and doctors go to great lengths to keep them safe. Many spend their first days in an isolette and connected to monitors and tubes. It's not always possible for parents to hold their newborn baby, you see. Yet, humans need physical touch to survive. It's critical for the health of the baby! Physical touch also helps parents bond with their newborn. Establishing a pattern of physical touch encourages this emotional bond easily. But how can a parent bond with their baby if the baby has to stay in their isolette?
Surround Baby With Your Scent
Babies are hormonally linked to their mother at birth, so build off of that pre-existing bond! Wear a shirt or scarf (for a few days if you're brave) and then place that item near the baby. When your baby is alert and awake, drape them with this personally-scented item. Some babies have even shown improved O2 saturation when surrounded by this calming scent.
Speak To Your Baby
Using a soft voice, speak to your baby. Tell them the hopes and dreams you have for their future. Share your ideas for what you'll do once they get out of the NICU. Describe how beautiful the flowers are in the park, and that one day, your baby will get to pick one for you. Verbalizing your dreams for your baby will help you feel connected to them even without touch. Plus, the baby recognizes your voice even in the womb, so they're bonded to that sound before they are born!
Ignore The Medical Equipment
Focus on your baby. Try to drown out all the medical equipment, the nurses, the doctors. The most important person in the room is this tiny, new human. Though this NICU stage may be scary and overwhelming at times, you still have a beautiful baby to love.
RELATED: What To Expect From A NICU Stay
Learn And Follow Baby's Cues
This baby is a magical creature. Even the tiniest of babies give off cues that they are hungry, sleepy, or want to interact. Spend time sitting with your baby and watching them. Soon enough, you'll learn what each cry means, what each tiny pursed lip means. It's the same kind of learning that parents do when they're holding their baby in their arms.
Take Photographs Of Your Baby
Taking photographs of your baby can help you feel close to them even when you're away. The NICU moms I know have shared the guilt they feel at living a full life outside of the hospital. But it's good to maintain that normalcy and routine! You may not have your baby with you in person, but you can bring them along with you throughout your day.
Personalize Their NICU Space
Just like you have pictures of your baby, include pictures of your family for the baby to see! Decorating their isolette or NICU space can help both parents and babies feel more at ease. Adding these personal touches can help promote brain and vision development - just like it would for full-term babies in their nursery at home!
Ideally, you will be able to hold your baby in your arms from the moment they're born. It's hard to imagine ever wanting to let them go when they're so little and fresh! But even if you can't hold your baby in your arms, you can still bond with them. It will help them AND you to feel close even when you're far away.